Pro vs Pre Biotics in Horses

When talking with horse owners, it seems that many are unclear about pre and pro biotics. Understanding that they are helpful, many folks don’t know why, how, or what to give. Those that give one or the other to their horses consider it ‘covered’, often without even knowing which they are giving, why or how it affects their horse.

Probiotics and prebiotics are different, and in my experience, offering the correct one can be extremely beneficial to the horse. This paper is a culmination of internet research combined with expert and personal experience, offering an easy to read summary that will save you time and help your horse. It is not a substitute for veterinary advise. Should you consider a change in diet or supplementation for your horse, always check with a veterinarian.

I have said many times that the two most important systems in your horse are the gut and the feet. And that these two systems are connected. The ‘gut’ has become a somewhat generic term meaning different things to different people. In this writing ‘gut’ refers to the hind gut of the horse, which is the large intestine. While the horses ‘gut’ is a complex structure, a typical horse owner will not fully understand, there are some basic facts that we have a responsibility to know. In my experience, gut health is at the core of many concerns and cannot be overlooked if you want to have a healthy horse with healthy feet. The hind gut is located behind the small intestine in the path of food digestion. Digestion performed in the hind gut is primarily done by tiny organisms, rather than enzymes.

There are thousands of species, and billions of individually naturally occurring organisms living in your horse’s hind gut. This is true for every horses at every moment. This is normal. These gut organisms may be referred to as microorganisms, bacteria or flora. Generally speaking, each of these tiny organisms fall into one of two categories; good organisms (=beneficial) and bad organisms (=harmful). Your goal is not a total obliteration of one category (i.e. the bad organisms), but rather a healthy balance between them. Unfortunately, this balance between good and evil is very delicate and almost everything we do in our keeping of domestic horses today, plays havoc on that balance.

If you offer a ‘biotic’, which do you give? Is there a difference and if so, which does your horse need? How and when do you give it?

Generally speaking, both probiotics and prebiotics are given to alter the balance between good flora and bad flora. And most commonly, a probiotic is given. But probiotics and prebiotics work entirely differently. In a nutshell:

Probiotics are good, live organisms. They are just like the one’s already in your horse’s system.
Prebiotics are food or nourishment for the good organisms.

Does it matter which approach you take to creating the desired balance? I believe it does.

Offering a probiotic and increasing the number of good organisms is a good step and likely you have seen good affects when giving it. Often once off the probiotic the symptoms return and you give it again. There are many different probiotics on the market and these differ by the specific kind and number of organisms they contain. Probiotics are live organisms (very small so you can’t see them but nevertheless, very much alive) and there are some logistical issues when offering probiotics to be sure they are effective (offering dead organisms is not helpful). Most probiotics are used in the stomach and early parts of the intestine (small intestine). Probiotics are good and they will help but they have limitations.

To me, a better approach is offering the building blocks for the naturally occurring organisms in your horse’s gut. This means offering a PREbiotic. Prebiotics are the nutrition for the organisms. Building, or flourishing, or developing the “good” flora (by giving a prebiotic) allows the gut to manage itself more effectively on its own, minute by minute and day by day as the needs change. In addition, prebiotics traveling through the digestive system often make it all the way to the hind gut, which is where the microbial digestion primarily takes place, and the nourishment for the microbes is needed.

I look at it this way….let’s say you have a large army of tiny soldiers at war in your gut continuously maintaining the delicate balance between good and evil. The good soldiers are weak and tired for lack of food. Because of their weakened condition they are barely holding their own against the bad guys and there is a constant fight at the front lines. Some days the good guys prevail, some days the bad guys prevail but overall, both sides teeter around the line. All of a sudden, there is a horrible assault (some examples include trailering, vaccinations, excessive parasites, chemical wormer given, disagreeable weed in hay, new horse in the paddock, partner horse taken away, processed grain, processed grain in bulk, a change in the weather, confinement in a stall….), and your good guys simply don’t have the extra strength to fight harder. That is

a day the bad guys win. For the next several days there are more assaults to the front lines (a multiple day show or event, the wormers and vaccinations you initially gave still actively doing their ‘work’, another change in weather and another and another, more processed grain, more stall rest….). Eventually your hard fighting good guys just cant hold the line any longer, and the bad guys gradually gain a little ground. Several days of a little ground eventually turns into going deeper and deeper into enemy territory. Your bad guys have gotten slowly but surely ‘over the line’. In the end, the good guys are outnumbered and your horse gets an upset stomach, is cinchy around the girth, has weight loss, looks lethargic, has a dull coat, seems slightly ‘off’, has a poor ‘attitude’ in training, refuses to bend, has poor quality hoof). The assaults continue (more wormers, vaccinations, stall rest, trailering, weather, etc, etc). And the cycle continues. Too many assaults, too many bad guys, weak and ineffective good guys, too many lost battles and you end up with a ton of problems.

So what can you do? You have two choices. You can:

A) Send in more soldiers (probiotic) who before long will also be weak and tired and unable to stand up to the on going assaults.

B) Get the soldiers you have up to snuff (prebiotic) and let them start fighting back!

Begin a daily regimen of a high quality PREbiotic (take better care of the soldiers you have). Adding a prebiotic daily will nourish the good organisms so they can flourish! If you suspect you have an acute imbalance in your horse’s gut flora, you may want to also add a high quality probiotic for 30 days (put more soldiers on the front line). A healthy amount of healthy organisms in the hind gut, will keep the hind gut healthier!

Lastly, if possible, consider helping the ‘biotics’ by eliminating or reducing the daily assaults! Eliminate grain or if you cant eliminate it (which I don’t buy), reduce the bulk of

the grain in each feeding; feed less grain and more fiber. Consider the effects of vaccinations and chemical wormers and if you must use these, increase the prebiotic before, during and for 3 days after their administration (the assault!). Be mindful of the affects of trailering, showing, work schedules, other stressors going on in the barn and set up the hind gut for success!

The health of the hind gut is paramount in the health of the horses’s feet. Adding a prebiotic to your horses’s feed will, in virtually every case, benefit the horse.

By Chris Huppe 2013/11/4



Chris Huppe is an Applied Equine Podiatrist located in the Northeast United States. This white paper is intended to offer assistance to anyone interested in this topic, but is not intended as medical or veterinary advise. Please contact your veterinarian before making any changes to your horses’ feeding schedule. This paper may not be replicated without expressed permission from Chris If you would like to contact Chris please feel free to reach her at 860-560-6706 or via email at

My Take on (Un)Well, the Netflix Documentary Series on Essential Oils

I could tell by the way two acquaintances separately told me about this video, designed to entertain and inform, as it says in the preamble, that it wasn’t positive. 

Never the less, I watched it.  I wanted to see what was out there. And this was an eyeful!

The show begins with the essential oil industry being “like a cult. They prey on housewives and mothers”.  Really?  Off to a good start (she says sarcastically). 


Not long into the showing I find myself thinking…

I’m confused.  What exactly is the point of the video?  Is it about whether essential oils are good for you?  Or are essential oils safe?  Is it about how or whether essential oils can help you with your health?  Or is it about the essential oil company Young Living and their unethical business practices?  Or is it about MLMs (the business model of multilevel marketing)?  Still not sure.  I think the “documentary” was misnamed. 

The Good.

I love that these producers raised awareness of essential oils. Yay.  Essential oils are becoming more common and to have this topic raised on Netflix is great!  Love it!

I think the video did a great job of showcasing how potent and body-affecting essential oils can be. Essential oils are real, potent, body-affecting chemicals. That’s what’s so great about them!

So many things about this video that I applaud….raising awareness, the hospital integration of essential oils (which is happening in many institutions across America), solid, first-hand examples of lives improved, the fact that essential oils can be used to improve both physical and emotional health, the introduction of using oils in conjunction with conventional medicine (my personal approach and expertise), the use of oils via the aromatic route, highlighting the work of Dr. Zielinski who’s teachings and writings are legitimate, showing that essential oils have a serious side.  All great.

The bad.

Showcasing a situation where essential oils were clearly used incorrectly, and thus possibly creating or contributing to an untoward effect, is not helpful.  Anything can be used incorrectly and cause a problem. 

Putting all essential oils in the same category is dangerous.  Pointing out that “they are available in Target, Walmart, Yoga Studios” and also used for health purposes with specially challenged persons in the same program -without showing differences between the oils- is only helping to fuel the confusion that already exists.  Every time I see a television commercial touting ‘natural essential oils’ in air fresheners or insect spray, I shudder. 

Don't waste my time.

The ugly.

Why did the video spend so much time and give so much attention to Young Living’s culture, their court case and crappy business practices?  And what does this have to do with whether pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils can help you with wellness?  Was there some hidden agenda by the producers?  Was this designed to be information on essential oils and health or an exposé of Young Living’s poor, unprofessional and deceitful practices?  (Not that I’d have any problem with that video being produced, I just didn’t know this was it.) 


For me the show was confusing.  And much more entertaining than informative. 

Unfortunately, it was not a balanced representation of the use or knowledge of essential oils in today’s society. Nor did not provide much actual information on whether essential oils can be used to improve health, and if so, how.  The film was, seemingly, more effective at raising ethical value questions about the essential oil industry rather than helping anyone with health.

I’m a nurse who believes in the strength and efficacy of essential oils used for health when they are produced purely, distributed ethically and used smartly.

But a large portion of this video was essential oils not produced purely, distributed unethically and used incorrectly. 

But let’s talk about the oils!

The first thing to understand is that there are two categories of essential oils,

a)Plant-based essential oils which are  pure, made-by-nature, natural, health raising chemicals currently being used by many for medicinal purposes, and,


b)Synthetic essential oils produced in laboratories which are not natural, not pure, and not health raising. Any product that uses a mixture of natural and synthetic falls into this category because they are not pure.

These two types of essential oils are vastly different in every way, except maybe in aroma, since the synthetic ones are made to mimic the natural ones.  It’s a shame we can use the same words to label these very different chemicals.  Very misleading. 

So here’s what I know about working with essential oils…

  • They are not all created equal. The differences are vast and have far reaching implications for safety and efficacy.
  • Pure essential oils are very potent and should not be underestimated.
  • You should be educated in their use and use them correctly.
  • When they are used correctly, they appear safe.
  • When they are used correctly, there is a large body of evidence to support their health-raising potential.
  • We’re all responsible for making our own healthcare choices, and therefore, deserve good, honest, straight-forward information on which we can base those decisions.

If you’re interested in using essential oils for health (and in today’s chemically laden, side-effect-burdened, addiction-risking society, I think it’s a really good idea if you are), and if you want to get the best safety and efficacy you can, you must learn how to do it.  Not unlike the first time you learn anything new.  Here are some starting points;

  • Find a person (like me) or company willing to provide you with education and support,
  • Find appropriate, honest, relevant resources on-line, in books and in groups,
  • Use your head and be your own advocate in all of your healthcare actions.

In the future, I’d love to see a documentary (on Netflix or anywhere else) that actually informs (you can leave the entertainment out) regarding the true capabilities and potential drawbacks of using essential oils for health. As humans and moms and dads and consumers and pet owners and patients we deserve honest information. 

As an aside, watching this ‘documentary’ encouraged me to look at other videos in the (Un)well series.  My general impression is there is a great deal of sensationalism brought to the subjects and sensationalism seems to be the greater goal over informing.  Well, just like essential oils, I suppose there are different ‘types’ of journalists.  For the topics they seem to cover, the way they cover them, including the choices they make of what to highlight and the overall negative and fear-based undertones of the copy,  for me it’s not a series I’ll be following.

The Road (of health)

Imagine your health is a smooth, even, freshy paved road.  When you drive over it it feels calm, smooth, strong and supportive. Many cars drive over the road everyday. Back and forth, back and forth, all kinds of people, driving all kinds of cars, with millions of places to go, up and down, up and down the road. Seasons change and with them, changes to the road.  Millions of cars, hundreds of seasons.

Initially, the changes in the road are subtle, in fact you don’t even really recognize them as you come and go to work each day. The color fades a bit, there is some crumbling around the edges, maybe there are a few dips in the surface but you don’t really feel them because your busy or your car’s shock absorbers pick up the slack and mask the indentation.  Once in awhile a crater develops that creates bigger damage and a road crew has to come in and do a repair job which totally mixes up the traffic flow for awhile, but when the repair is done and the construction team leaves, you settle down and back into the usual flow -but now with a patch in the road.  Some time later you start noticing the smoothness has left the road. 

There’s several pot holes that you have to navigate around. Sometimes you see them and can avoid them and sometimes, Wham!, you run right over them and ‘ouch!’.

‘Geez!’, you think, ‘that didn’t feel good.’, but you keep going.  Lots to do.  Places to be. 

Lots of things happen on that road but it is strong, made of almost indespesible materials and it keeps serving it’s purpose of connecting people to people and people to places year after year, journey after journey.

One day, you get in your car and enter the road and STOP! There is a huge hole in the road! “ALL OF A SUDDEN there is this huge, gaping pot hole in the road so large that you’d actually get stuck if you tried to cross it.  Out of no where this big, gaping hole!  This one get’s your attention and actually interrupts your day as you back up, turn around and find a new, longer, more gas-sucking, more time-sucking way to get to where your going.  But you do it and get on with your day.  Man, you had a hard day but finally you’re coming home, ready for dinner and a peaceful evening before you start everything all over again tomorrow.  But STOP!, you can’t get home.  The road is closed and you say, ‘What the _____, I just want to get home! Open the road!’ But no one does.  They can’t.  Too much damage has been done from too many cars going back and forth, back and forth, with people going millions of places and small gravel and little dips and some extra things out of place from that time the men had to come and patch the road.  Now, no mater what you do, who you talk to or how much you pray, the road can’t be opened.  The pot hole is far and wide and deep.  No car in existence could traverse the hole and raise out of the other side.  You’re stuck.

Imagine your health is a road. Nutritional road-mapping points out the extra gravel, indentations and even small pot holes. That way, you can clean them up, fill them in and maintain your road before the inevitable STOP!  And you think, ‘oh yes, I see, that’s what will get me where I want to go’.